Lying In The Gutters

Mon, January 19th, 2009 at 12:58pm PST | Updated: January 20th, 2009 at 5:07pm

Comic Books
Rich Johnston, Columnist

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LYING IN THE GUTTERS 193

Welcome to the most popular and longest running comics column on the internet. In its various forms, Lying In The Gutters has covered rumours and gossip in the comics industry for fourteen long glorious and quite scary years.

All stories are sourced from well-connected individuals. But I urge you to use your judgment and remember, context is everything.

The traffic lights are an indication (and only that) of how reliable I believe the story to be, based on source, context and gut feel. Red lets you know I think this rumour is bunkum, but it is still one being spread about and could do with stamping on. Amber indicates I think there is a bias involved in the telling here, or it just seems a little dodgy. And Green as far as I can tell (as far as I can ever tell) is the real deal, junior. But it's still quite possibly wrong.

Nevertheless, do remember, Lying In The Gutters is for your entertainment. Neither Fair Nor Balanced. Please don't shoot the messenger.

THE RECESSION VS COMICS, PART ONE

[Green Light]Over three years ago, Lying in the Gutters reported how comics industry monopoly distributor Diamond were increasing "benchmark" and introducing "threshold" figures for the comics they distributed. The "benchmark" indicated what they expected each comic to sell in order to be listed in Diamond's catalogue, Previews, and the "threshold" at what level it was considered no longer economical even to fill the order.

At the time there were concerns that small press books would falter, not reach the expected figures, and smaller companies would disappear. And those that depended on listing the same item again and again, as "Order Again" would lose a big chunk of their income, as repeated listings of the same item would never have the same amount of orders as the initial listing. To some extent, this did indeed happen. Some companies disappeared, especially the one-man-bands. And the amount of O/As dropped. Some companies chose to cut exclusive deals with Diamond, so that they could list O/A titles without worrying about benchmarks.

In September 2005, the benchmark was set at $1500 wholesale and the threshold at $600 wholesale. That worked out at about a retail benchmark of $3750 and a retail threshold of $1500.

One other factor is that three years ago, most independent books cost around $2 to $3. These days, it's $3 to $4. Which means, the benchmarks and thresholds are being reached with smaller sales.

So boys and girls, it's time for it all to happen again. I understand the new expected minimum order, the benchmark, is $2500 wholesale or $6250 retail. Miss that figure too often and your book is dropped. And the threshold figure is now $1500 wholesale or $3750 retail.

So what are the implications of this change?

Well, what is really different this time is that even companies who have secured exclusive deals with Diamond are being affected. And many of them have relied on filling their Diamond pages with O/A listings that, when combined, keep them afloat.

Expect to see a lot of indie books put their prices up. Smaller ones will try to make sure their books make the threshold figure for initial orders. Larger ones will try to do the same on O/A. This is basically the end of the under $3.99 book. And a new beginning for a few $4.50 and $4.99 books.

Previews is going to be slashed in size. Some publishers will be gone, some will see their listing size chopped by half. Some that survive this may find themselves with less competition but also less ability to solicit revenue raising product month in month out, and "sleeper" hits may have to be dropped in favour of instant hit "event" comics.

Most well-selling indie books will remain. But entry to market will be severely restricted. You're going to see less of the kind of books that come from nowhere to suddenly take prominence, like "Mouse Guard."

And expect to see dismissals from Diamond, as they start to deal with less inventory, and a lot less paperwork.

But Diamond will make more money per item now, and become more profitable. Which may help owner Steve Geppi pay off debts from his other businesses but, more likely, instantly improve Diamond's cashflow. They may bring in a little less money overall, but they will be expending a lot less money to get it.

There are plenty of comic shops hurting right now, seeing trade fall away. And Diamond have been known for extending generous terms to them. As a result Diamond are horribly exposed to the current recession, in a way they haven't been before. These new benchmark and threshold terms are the equivalent of battening down the hatches for the oncoming storm.

Publishers are expected to have this news disseminated through the week, though versions have slipped out early.

These are interesting times.

HERO WORSHIP

[Green Light]"No Heroics," the British superhero sitcom from ITV2, currently airing on Wednesdays on ITV1, will be made available on DVD next month. After mentioning it a couple of months ago, the production team gave me ten DVDs for my readers. I pointed out that I had slightly more readers than that, but they ignored me. Sigh. Anyway.

So here's a recession-beating offer. To win one of ten "No Heroics" DVDs, featuring the first series of the ITV2 superhero sitcom, e-mail lyinginthegutters@gmail.com by Tuesday, 5pm GMT (2pm EST, 11am PST) with the name of the character that “Spaced's" Mark Heap plays on the show, along with your name and address. Hint: www.imdb.com is there for a reason, you know.

I'll pick ten correct entries at random. Remember, if you live outside the UK, you may need a multi-region DVD player, but for goodness sake, why would you buy a fixed region player, eh? Eh?

There's no news yet on a second series, though the ITV1 pickup is a good sign. And an even better sign is that a US remake from UK showrunner Drew Pierce and “Desperate Housewives" Jeff Greenstein is being picked up by ABC.

RECESSION VS COMICS INDUSTRY PART TWO

[Green Light]Mel Caylo and Rob Levin have been let go by Top Cow Comics. VP of Sales And Marketing and VP Editorial respectively.

It's not going to get better.

WAIDING THROUGH...

[Green Light]One item moving through a Diamond warehouse mystified workers there. One took a photo!

Anyone got an order code?

BLIND ITEM

[Green Light]Which comic industry employee left the East Coast to be with their partner, reducing tension in the office and the possibility of said employee bringing a harassment lawsuit.

YOU ARE NUMBER SIX

[Green Light]"Glamourpuss" #6 preview from the mighty pen, brush and light table of Dave Sim...

People who ask if this should be in the Swipe File section have really missed the point.

HOPE AND DEATH

[Yellow Light]How DC screwed the pooch and Marvel won Crufts.

Last week, "Final Crisis" #6 featured the apparent death of Batman. With the incredibly media friendly image of Superman holding the smouldering apparent-corpse of Batman. Let's see it again.

Yet the media only had eyes for the rather pedestrian Barack Obama cover of "Amazing Spider-Man" #583.

And while "Final Crisis" #6 was a convoluted, incomprehensible layer of unconnected scenes, it still managed to make more sense and look a lot prettier than that Barack Obama scene in "Amazing Spider-Man" #536. Apparently, supervillains can't jump.

So what happened? The thing is, there had been a media run over the last issue of the "Batman RIP" arc, featuring Batman falling off a helicopter into the water. A death off panel, with no body. Of course there wasn't, Batman was off in a UFO. It was a bit rubbish, fan reaction was muted, Dan Didio even told reporters that of course he wasn't really dead, DC got a few headlines and moved on, telling everyone to read "Final Crisis" #6.

And Marvel rode into town with Obama in a Spider-Man comic, to be published the same week.

Marvel gave the media a story and ran a spoiler. DC cried wolf and went dark.

YES WE CAN ORDER YOU A THIRD PRINT

[Green Light]So how have comic stores reacted to the run on the Obama Spider-Man cover? A few retailers on the CBIA shared stories.

Colin McMahon of New Dimension Comics-McMurray in Pennsylvania was told by one customer that she would report him to the Better Business Bureau for not selling her a copy.

Despite the fact that the comics hadn’t actually been delivered yet.

Larry of Larry’s Comics was asked on the phone, after mentioning the one-per-customer limit;

“I'm currently stationed in Iraq. I can't get to a comic book store. In fact none of my friends over here can get to a comic shop. Would it be possible to reserve 17 of each? Me and the boys would sure appreciate it."

Before realizing the caller was a local scam artist. Robert Pilk of Mountain Empire Comics wrote;

"I've just had two guys (not regular customers) walk in and tell me they wanted all my special editions - so they could put them on eBay and sell them for big bucks. They were not happy when I told them I wouldn't be getting any at all."

Patrick of Velocity Comics added;

"I had a drunk jerk sending bums in to buy the book, even though I told him Monday it would be one-per-customer on Monday. We didn't catch it until he got 5 copies. Grr."

And David M. Wheeler of Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy reported;

"We've been receiving several special orders for ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ #583 but I just received one that takes the cake. A gentleman from (I won't tell). called the store and asked to speak with a manager. R. handed him over to me and he asked if I could reserve 40 copies of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ #583 Obama variant covers for him to give out to his staff! While not specifically asking for special treatment, he was heavy handed in offering tickets to ballgames and concerts in exchange for securing these issues for him. I, of course, informed him that I'd be glad to take his special order but that I couldn't guarantee that we would have enough copies of the 1st printing to fill his request, as we'd be handling our regular subscribers and special orders in the order received. I just found it rather amusing that an individual would resort to bribery to gain access to comic books."

And John Tinkess of Another Dimension wrote;

"Most people were very understanding about our 1 copy limit but there are always a few idiots in the crowd. The first guy in line offered one of my emps $20 to sell him another copy and another guy kept trying to move from one register to another and then back in line again to get more (the line wasn't THAT long and this guy looked like a hobo so he was hard to miss)."

Next up, the secret variant cover of "Invincible Iron Man" #10.

SPECULATOR CORNER

[Green Light]So where else for Obama? Well, he's been in "Savage Dragon", of course... and he will be in the resolicited version of "Youngblood" #8. There was the IDW biography too. But how many people know his first comic book appearance was in Nat Gertler's Licensable Bear?

And for those disappointed in Obama's appearance in "Amazing Spider-Man," he appears to make a much more prominent and impactful, albeit unofficial one, in the new "Thunderbolts" #128, out on Wednesday. He's not named, and he sticks mostly to the shadows, but the likeness is a lot stronger. And rather than engaging in a basketball knowledge-off, fresh from his inauguration he goes up against Norman Osborn, He finds Osborn has been granted all sorts of executive powers by the outgoing administration, and the "President" isn't exactly happy.

I'm buying ten. Hell, look what happened to the Spider-Man I just eBayed... bloody hell.

MY, GRAMPA, WHAT BIG TEETH YOU HAVE

[Green Light]Looks like Rafael Grampa, artist of "Mesmo Delivery" and recently for Brian Azzarello's story in "Hellblazer" #250, will be working, at least on covers, for Marvel's "Werewolf By Night."

Ooh!

X/A

[Yellow Light]Is there going to be a big X-Men/Avengers crossover planned later this year? A Fraction/Bendis love in? That's what I'm hearing.

A HOOPES IN THE MAKING?

[Yellow Light]Beware e-mails from a Vaugn J Graves, e-mail sherrivaugn@yahoo.com, looking for work. This is his portfolio.

The BloodRayne artwork featured is actually by Pow Rodrix.

Hell, some of the pieces are even signed by Pow.

Oh look, his Deviant Art page shows that he’s actually a “Jeff Hensel". Any relation to “Jeff Henzel", the pseudonym for the “Fake Art Adams" scam?

CASING THE JOINT

[Green Light]Jonathan Ross finishes his BBC exile this week, his Friday night show returning with Tom Cruise and Lee Evans. So what has he been doing with his time? Why, posting webcam shots from his study with his dinner guests, in this case Eddie Izzard and Danny Wallace (The Yes Man).

So. Any comic geeks fancy planning a heist on Jonathan's study?

ODDS AND SODS

[Green Light]Brendon Connelly, LITG’s film expert who I met in an Oxford Comic shop fifteen years ago as we argued the relative merits of “Hepcats", has just been signed up by Slashfilm. Here’s a piece he wrote on the upcoming Simon Pegg/Nick Frost movie “Paul" and stills from “Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince".

Watchmensch.com – over 140 retailers signed up to say they’re stocking “Watchmensch" for the shelf. Is yours on it? If not, why not? Also, just started a Watchmensch-purchasing Facebook group.

Zander Cannon and Gene Ha’s “Top Ten Season Two" is as good as Alan Moore, Gene Ha and Zander Cannon’s “Top Ten Season One." Just thought you should know.

Heist, available online, from Bankshot Comics.

And this Wednesday, Obama story creators Zeb Wells and Todd Nuack are going to be signing copies at The Comic Bug at Manhattan Beach on Wednesday from 6pm. Anyone who pops by mentions they read about it here, Comic Bug have promised to order an extra copy of "Watchmensch." How could I not plug that?

SMALL PRINT

Discuss this column at the Lying In The Gutters Forum and add your request to what you want from future columns.

I'm still eBaying odds and sods here. My social networking is pretty much all Facebook and Twitter these days, but I'm around at Bebo, MySpace, ComicSpace too.

You can see my Guido Fawkes cartoon most Mondays here. Here's the latest.

Contact me on richjohnston@gmail.com or on AOL Instant Messenger as TwistRich.

You can also write to me at 8 Robin Hood Lane, Kingston Vale, London SW15 3PU ENGLAND

Or call me/text me on 0780 1350982 from the UK or 01144780 1350982 from the US.

TAGS:  diamond comic distributors, comics retailing, barack obama

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